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Rookie Review: Lessons From The Hill

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Emily Paulson
August 4, 2015

EGP-PATimesColumn-Aug-ImageRecently, I had the opportunity to take a weeklong trip to our nation’s capital with my master’s program. I had never been to D.C. before, so I couldn’t wait. I had all sorts of images already conjured up in my mind. How it would look? What would I feel? Who the people would be?

After spending a week there, it showed me how much I did not – and still do not – know. However, I had a blast and I learned so much about how the policy shaping our nation is made.

Partisan politics aren’t all bad.

I have been disinterested in politics most of my life. I grew up in a sort of apolitical household. Both my parents voted but neither really talked about it. They would answer my questions and didn’t avoid discussing issues, but I wasn’t raised around much political discourse. Mostly, they taught me to value personal responsibility and be fearlessly compassionate.

Even today, extreme politics drive me a little crazy regardless of the political leaning. So it’s always been my feeling that we should just do away with hard-drawn party lines.

I still would love to see the independent party gain a little more power and I think both sides ought to support more moderates. However, partisan politics can actually be a good thing. Why? Because they make us think through important issues more thoroughly.

EGP-PATimesColumn-Aug-Image2The politicians we met with told us that opposition helps identify cons that might outweigh pros, points out the repercussions of taking funding from X to fund Y, and generally holds policy makers to a higher standard of excellence – something the American people deserve to see from their elected officials.

So let us be thankful we have bright minds and conviction on both sides of the aisle. Without each other, we would not be held as accountable.

At the end of the day, is it better to have idealistic stalling or make baby steps toward improvement? Personally, I think progress should trump any stubborn refusal to work together and get things done.

Our nation is run by 20-somethings.

Seriously. I think more than anything else I was shocked by how stuffy the movers and shakers of national policy…aren’t. We would enter these big, beautiful, stately government buildings only to be greeted by hordes of 20-somethings, scurrying around to make America run more smoothly.

While most elected officials are a little more seasoned, they’re getting the research and information used to make decisions from people just starting their careers. One of my professors told our group the average age of someone moving into D.C. is 26 and the average age of someone moving out is 29.

I personally think this is great. Many of those positions require lots of energy, a finger on the national pulse, idealism, hard work and a willingness (and ability) to work long hours. But it was still surprising.

The voice of the constituent matters.

From more than one elected official, and from both sides of the aisle, I was told that the voice of the constituent is powerful. Many of the women and men representing us really do want to hear our thoughts, know our concerns and protect our interests.

So what does that mean? It means when you care about something, you should make sure the elected officials representing you know about it. Call their office. Send them an email. Write them a letter. Really.

They’re busy, so I won’t pretend a red carpet will be rolled out for every person they hear from. But they truly will listen. They will take what you say into consideration. Their staff will do diligent research about what can be done and how the rest of the constituency would be affected.

It was so encouraging hearing those in positions of power recognize they are servants of the people and gaining insight into their complicated and serious decision-making processes.

Lobbying isn’t a dirty word.

It seems to me that lobbyists and advocacy groups have a bad reputation. There are bad eggs in any profession, to be sure. But the lobbyists our group met were completely impressive.

For one thing, they know their stuff. I mean forward and backward. These individuals are knowledgeable about areas and policies that affect the interests of whomever they represent. More than one elected official admitted that in many ways they rely on lobbyists because they are so full of information.

Many go into advocacy work because of their experience and passion. They will intentionally take positions with firms they know won’t pressure them into making backroom deals or put the almighty dollar first. Let’s not let the bad eggs give the good ones a bad name.

I left D.C. feeling smarter, more inspired to make our country stronger and more confident that we can do it … that we will. I could not be more thankful for the opportunity or excited to see where my new knowledge might take me.


Author: Emily Paulson is a content marketing manager in Minneapolis, where she moonlights as an MPA student at Hamline University’s School of Business. She’s carving out a career in public safety and community outreach, and believes in firm handshakes and shameless smiles. Contact her at [email protected]. She warmly welcomes your thoughts.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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